Bilski decision affects only Bilski

Bilski decision affects only Bilski

Summary: The four-person dissent, written by outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens, indicated significant support for tossing all business method patents, and said the majority's decision would cause "mischief."


The final decision in Bilski vs. Kappos is out, and it seems to impact only Bernard Bilski, whose patent the Supremes voted to strike down 5-4.

(The Free Software Foundation got this picture of petitioner Bilski, at left, with co-petitioner Rand Warsaw and lawyer Michael Jakes (on the right) after oral argument last year.)

On the more general question of software and business method patents, the court held mute.

That might be because Antonin Scalia dissented from much of the court's reasoning. Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Alito, Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts.

The four-person dissent, written by outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens, indicated significant support for tossing all business method patents, and said the majority's decision would cause "mischief."

Reaction was predictable. Opponents of software patents like the Software Freedom Law Center were livid. Legal director Daniel Ravicher:

The Court’s rejection of Bilski’s patent application got rid of a symptom of the disease, but failed to treat the real cause by reconfirming that thought and thought processes are not patentable.”

The patent law blog Patently O called the decision "business as usual" but for those keeping score at home only one of the nine seemed ready to go beyond the very narrow holding in favor of patents, while four seemed ready to scrap it.

Software patent opponent Florian Mueller, writing from Germany, is correct about one thing. This question is now back in the hands of legislators:

Only new legislation could restrict the scope of patentable subject matter beyond the Supreme Court's permissive stance. The ruling makes reference to an earlier decision, according to which the courts "should not read into the patent laws limitations and conditions which the legislature has not expressed."

A Justice Kagan would be unlikely to alter the court's balance on this question, since she's said to side with Stevens in dissent, but if she's as persuasive as her backers claim she might surprise us.

Topic: Legal

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  • Software and methods both need to go.

    Hardware and chemical combination only and both should be limited at 5 to 10 years. Companies should get ROI, but they shouldnt be able to lock in a patent for forever. This includes music rights btw.
    • Music rights


      Music rights are copyright and publishing law, not patents. Totally different ballgame. But I would agree that some new/revise legal structure around these laws are needed, too.
      • RE: Bilski decision affects only Bilski

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  • And you get PAID for this?

    YOU, Mr. Blankenship, need to enroll in a JOURNALISM course.

    Every freshman journalism student -- even every cub reporter at every free weekly "Penny Shopper" type newspaper in every little metal rack near the doors of every grocery store in ever little town in America -- learns, somehow, how to write a basic news story. It must have a lead. It must give a bit of background to bring the reader up to speed. And then it must expand on the lead and bring the story home to a logical ending.

    A beginning. A middle. And an end. Every story must have one. You've apparently FORGOTTEN that. (And you're not the only one around here. There are SEVERL ZDNet writers who've either never learned, or have forgotten what makes for good -- nay, just halfway decent -- journalism.)

    Here, you begin in the middle -- in fact, BEYOND the middle -- and just assume everyone's as up to speed on this story as are you.

    Such unmitigated arrogance and gall.

    You actually get PAID for this?

    If that's all it takes, then I know a whole bus full of homeless guys...

    ...who could do as well, and who DESPERATELY need work.

    Truly, it boggles the mind.

    I respect your knowledge and experience (though I often don't agree with the conclusions to which it brings you); and I like your choice of story subjects (though I often don't agree with the conclusions to which you come about them).

    But, Dana, I sweartogod, you have GOT to find some online journalism course somewhere, enroll in it, and LEARN. I'm not talking about a journalism degree. I'm talking about something more like a certificate or diploma... if even that. Maybe a good three-course mini-cert sort of thing would do. Just something to get you the basics.

    Such little courses are more common in the UK, where journalism is approached a little differently than here in the US; yet where PROPER journalism, and the ability to craft a good story that won't leave readers scratching their heads is still valued. For that reason, whenever I'm counseling someone who needs to learn how to do the sort of work you're being paid to do here, I recommend any of a number of interesting little distance learning journalism courses that are offered in UK. Just make sure that whatever course you choose there is accredited (and know that UK accreditation is different from how we accredit education in the US, so if you need to quickly understand how to figure out what is and isn't accredited in the UK, don't hesitate to ask me... though I'll not hold my breath for that, if it's all the same to you).

    Here's just one examplet:

    There are many others, to wit:

    * BBC Training and Development
    * Bournemouth University
    * Cleland Thom Journalism Training Centre
    * Cornwall College
    * University of Glamorgan
    * The Innovatory
    * Cornwall College
    * University of Central Lancashire
    * London College of Communication
    * National Council for the Training of Journalists
    * Nottingham Trent University
    * University of Sheffield
    * University of Sunderland

    Or, actually, UMass, right here in the US, offers an interesting little certificate in journalism...

    ...which is obviously fully accredited by US standards; and which would, of course, approach journalism from a US perspective (unlike any of the earlier-listed UK courses).

    Or here's a two-semester, fast-track, certificate from a Canadian college...

    ...that's fully-accredited and will bygod get the job done.

    But the truth is that good journalism courses of the type that YOU need can be had for free if one knows where to find them. And they're remarkably good, in spite of their being both free and online (a seeming credibility double-whammy in the minds of some, I know). See this page (and watch the video) from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ):

    Heck, you wouldn't necessarily even HAVE to take a course. You could get a WORLD of good information from these ICFJ manuals:

    Or take some free courses at Poynter's NEWS UNIVERSITY:

    And, of course, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has more free resources than you can shake a stick at:

    If you're fuming with insult, right about now, from your having read all this, then "mission accomplished," as far as I'm concerned...

    ...because my intent, here, is to figuratively shake you by your shoulders and remind you of what I KNOW you know how to do; to make you recall your journalistic roots and know-how; and to wake you up from what has clearly become your journalistic laziness and complacency.

    You AND most of your co-workers!

    Do not take seriously -- none of you -- the wrong-headed belief that writing for the web is really all that different from writing for more traditional print. Writing, to some degree, is writing; and the forum makes no difference whatsoever, in any case, if you're not understood by readers who have no background in that about which you're writing. If you fail to convey the story, and leave your readers wondering what the heck you were writing about by the time they finish, then you have failed... you have failed here.

    Every piece must stand on its own. These blog postings of yours are not chapters in a larger tome.

    I KNOW that you know how to do this. I don't actually think you need a single one of those courses (though there might be an article or two, to remind you, that you should read). You've simply forgotten, apparently, how to write a story with a beginning, and a middle, and an end; and one which actually has a lead, then background to bring the reader up to speed, then expansion on the lead to a magnificent end.

    What in godsname has happened to you? To almost ALL of you, here at ZDNet? Have you lost your journalistic minds?

    Go back to the basics. I know you all know what you're doing. So, then, SHOW IT! Otherwise, you're all just wasting your readers' precious time.

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

      Oops. I meant:

      "YOU, Mr. Blankenhorn, need to..."

      Proof that we ALL need a copy editor, too.

      Gregg L. DesElms
      Napa, California USA
      gregg at greggdeselms dot com
      • RE: Bilski decision affects only Bilski

        @gregg@... Copy editors are not really available to bloggers. It's one of the hazards of the trade. I have to be my own copy editor. Fortunately when I make a big mistake I can correct it later, and do.

        Thanks again. Have a happy 4th. I'll be here in Atlanta enjoying some of your fine fruit-flavored products. After I parade down the road with 55,000 of my nearest friends and neighbors. It's called the Peachtree Road Race but that's inaccurate.
    • RE: Bilski decision affects only Bilski

      @gregg@... Thanks for taking so much time to write. But this was a blog post, not a news story.

      They're different. As I have learned over the last 5 1/2 years I've been here. Repeatedly.

      But again, thanks for writing. I enjoyed it. I have thick skin, so feel free to come by any time.